By Tessa Raebeck
Several long-debated proposals to improve the safety of Sag Harbor’s schools will again be up for discussion this summer. At the Board of Education (BOE) meeting Monday, July 8, district architect Larry Salvesen will outline the comprehensive plan behind a Facilities Bond Proposition that is being recommended to the board by the Educational Facilities Planning Committee.
“The proposal really centers on safety and security,” said the district’s superintendent and committee chair Dr. Carl Bonuso. If the board accepts the bond, the community could potentially vote on the proposal this November.
The proposal covers a variety of areas, ranging from small upgrades to large-scale improvements, and hopes to address immediate safety concerns in the schools while saving the district money over time. Issues such as improving the Pierson Middle/High School Auditorium are again being looked at, following defeat in earlier plans.
The last two bonds recommended by the district failed to gain the support of the community. The request for a nearly $7 million bond in December 2009 was voted down. Taking into account the criticism, the current proposal hopes to amend areas of concern.
“This bond that we’re recommending reflects years worth of research and work,” said Peter Solow, an art teacher at Pierson and a longstanding member of the committee.
Solow added the committee was very conservative in how it approached the proposal — only wanting to recommend to the board necessities.
The team’s criteria for evaluating what needed to be done was based on three primary components: health and safety, the responsible maintenance of the existing facility and the bond’s ability to function over a 15 year period.
According to Solow, who has served on three different committees and has “been working on these issues since 1992,” facilities bonds are usually reconfigured in Sag Harbor once every 15 years. The last bond passed by the district was in 1999.
“Whatever we put in this bond has to, as best as possible and in a comprehensive way, deal with the facilities issues up until the year 2030,” said Solow.
Compared to previous efforts, the drafting of the current proposal included an emphasis on the involvement of outside parties that were not on the committee. Local residents whose homes are close to Pierson were often invited to committee meetings to discuss their concerns.
“They were active participants in the discussions,” said Solow of the schools’ neighbors. “We made sure that we heard from every constituency, so that if there were any issues that anybody had associated with any part that we were investigating, we had that issue out on the table.”
The bond hopes to instill long-awaited improvements to the Pierson auditorium. At a recent school program, “somebody sat in one of the seats and the whole thing fell over backwards,” according to Solow. The committee hopes to address such safety concerns by upgrading the seating and lighting, creating more space on stage and improving the efficiency of the entry and exit strategies.
The proposal also hopes to create seating so that the entire student body of either the middle school or the high school (not both) would be able to fit into the auditorium at the same time. It would increase the number of seats from about 280 to 350.
“In 1999 — when we did that massive recommendation — the one area that we didn’t touch was the auditorium,” said Solow of the last completed facilities planning bond.
The comprehensive plan addresses a variety of ways to improve school facilities with an emphasis on safety, not style, he added.
“Health and safety became the number one priority,” explained Solow. “We eliminated almost everything from the bond that we felt couldn’t meet the criteria of falling into those categories.”
Many of the proposals reflect “a reworking and a reanalysis of the bond that failed in 2009,” Solow said. “Everything that we did was based on a very, very stringent lead evaluation that was based on health and safety.”
“We are very excited about this proposition,” Dr. Bonuso said. “We feel that a number of things will be addressed that quite frankly need to be addressed.”
Community members are encouraged to attend the presentation and discussion of the proposed bond at the board of education meeting on Monday, July 8.
“It’s something that we’re inviting the community to attend and listen to,” said Dr. Bonuso. “Our committee members will be there at the time and be active participants in the conversation and discussion.”
Solow emphasized the importance of including the community in the decision-making process, as well as the efforts of the committee to draft a proposal that is both effective and practical.
“What we did reflects a tremendous effort,” he said. “It reflects a very, very solid attempt to keep this focused on these needs that were absolutely essential and not to do the Taj Mahal.”